Tuesday 16 August 2011

Considerate Cycling 2

I have been enjoying the roads and paths of Bristol quite a lot since I last wrote. Yesterday I went from Clifton to Temple Meads station via The Suspension Bridge, along various tracks and cycle lanes and on a bit of the National Cycle Network's Route 41. Fabulous.

Here are some ideas on Considerate Cycling, as promised in the last piece.

Be heard. Buy, fit and use a bell. I got a lovely cheap small one from Fred Baker Cycles. One flick with the thumb and it sends out a gentle, sustained and penetrating piiiiiiiiiiing that avoids the bad-tempered spring-loaded rasp of ancient times. I find mine very helpful on the riverside where families are wandering happily along the shared path. They appreciate the early warning-time to gather themselves and their little ones before the hazard arrives. A ping before an unsighted bend is very handy too. A bell might disturb the peace, but last minute shocks and confusion are much worse.

Be visible. In the days when I drove a car regularly the very late sighting of a dark-clad cyclist with no lights always scared and upset me. When I am driving with lights on, behind a windscreen, with other lights coming towards me, movement in the shadows is very hard to see. I don't think I'm the only person with this defect. On a bike dusk feels OK. I can see everything from my bike, but for motorists it's different. Lights and reflective clothing are not just considerate, they are vital. In broad daylight, something bright to wear and a good upright posture, well away from the gutter all help other road users to notice you early and give you (and themselves) a chance.

Be brave. Look behind you, signal boldly, sit right up and look others in the eye. Make a show of moving safely into the proper lane or the middle of the road if that is where you should be. Stay well away from narrow gaps, gutters and pot holes and leave the sneaky blind side of any vehicle bigger than you are well alone.

Be predictable. It should go without saying, but uncertainty adds to anxiety and anxiety leads to poor judgement. You can reduce the highway distress of others by doing What You Should Be Doing. The 30% of road users who think of themselves as "Below average" in confidence and skill are definitely helped if the unexpected cyclist is on the left, moving in the right direction in a one-way street and visibly paying attention to others.

Be receptive. Dark goggles at night? Audio earphones at any time? Good clear vision and acute hearing are a real blessing. If you have them you can be more attentive to and respectful of others and reduce their risk of having to call for your ambulance when they hit you. Listening to speech or music absorbs attention that could be on hazards, and reduces your ability to hear. Noticing a gear change behind you could warn you of the unexpected left turn across the bows that so frequently afflicts cyclists.

Be attentive. Cycling is such a pleasure (even in the city) that daydreams and good ideas flood in as the blood pumps through your body. If you deliberately pay attention to the road around you, more immediate difficulties can be reduced by early changes in speed or road position. You spot the early-morning parent who has just stopped and who is about to open an offside car door to let the child out for school. You see the broken inspection cover soon enough to warn others before you pull out and go round it safely.

Be patient. This is the hardest and the most important thing. On a shared path is 20mph really being kind to others? That could be 10 times faster than they are but it will change your journey to work time by only a few minutes (if you get there). Is it going to improve your life if you get over the traffic light three minutes earlier than everybody else?

Be polite. When someone has upset you by acting dangerously or illegally, try to let it go. Can you be sure they did it just to irritate or injure you personally? Have you never done anything silly or careless?

Be thoughtful. A bus might have 50 people on board. They would all like to get home. A queue of traffic on a hill or a narrow road might include a midwife on a mission. It only takes a moment's thought to see a place to stop or pull well over to let them through. I know it's your road too, but that's what gives you the right to be generous with it.

Be yourself. When other cyclists jump a light, mount the pavement or hurtle round a blind corner there's an invisible social bond that pulls you with them. This is great when you're on the Tour de France. But life back here on earth feels great when you've mastered the art of turning it off, making your own decisions to be considerate and letting them go.

Use the lifesaver often, and always use it before setting off. The lifesaver is a full head turn that looks steadily at all the road behind you. If it makes you wobble, practice on waste ground or a quiet road. It helps you to see but it also provides that visible clue to others that you are thinking about them and planning to do something that could affect them.

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